U.S. Special Operators named IRONMEN

Army Green Beret and Recon Marine receive coveted GEA designation

By Alex Junes-Ward

Global Eco Adventures (GEA) has announced IRONMAN designations for two U.S. military special operations NCOs, former Army Green Beret Staff Sergeant Lowell Koppert and former Marine Reconnaissance Sergeant Jared Evans, who will formally receive their Ironman awards later this month.

The new IRONMAN designations come less than two weeks after Rudy Reyes, a former U.S. Marine Recon sergeant and star of the HBO miniseries “Generation Kill,” became the fifteenth IRONMAN to be so named since the Ironman awards program was established by GEA in 2020.

“IRONMAN is a designation and an award presented by GEA to select recipients who have served GEA in varying capacities,” said Dr. Tom Mullikin, a U.S. Army veteran, retired two-star commander of the S.C. State Guard, and global expedition leader who has led mountaineering expeditions on every continent from pole to pole. “Each Ironman must also have demonstrated a level of physical, mental, and spiritual prowess – essentially an iron-willed toughness – beyond that which has been demonstrated by their also-tough peers. Thus the recipients are considered to be IRONMEN.”

Mullikin is himself an Ironman, originally titled through the Christian men’s organization, IRONMAN OUTDOORS.

GEA’s IRONMAN designation is for male recipients. GEA’s equally difficult-to-earn companion award for females is “THE PEG – Heart of a Lioness Award,” named for the late Peggy Mullikin Kinney, an accomplished marathoner with a “refusal to quit spirit.” The first and, so far, only award of THE PEG was presented to South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Pamela S. Evette during GEA’s annual dinner in 2022.

IRONMAN has thus far been reserved for those with global expeditionary experience, or proven athletic skills, or who have served their country with distinction in peace and in war – or all of the above – all of whom have achieved accomplished-notoriety in at least two of the aforementioned categories. Additionally, each recipient must also have “greatly enhanced the mission of GEA,” a non-profit adventure-education organization that directs large environmental projects and outfits and leads exploratory expeditions to some of the most isolated regions around the world.

“Both Lowell Koppert and Jared Evans have near-effortlessly proven themselves worthy of this distinct honor and title,” said Col. (Ret.) Steve Vitali, U.S. Marine Corps, himself an Ironman and a member of the S.C. Black Belt Hall of Fame of whom four inductees are also Ironmen. “These two men are formerly deployed ground combat leaders who enhance the already sterling membership of this exclusive club, and quite literally keep the exacting standards high.”

An article by former semi-pro football player and U.S. Air Force veteran Chris Carter in 2021 said: “A few, though not all, of GEA’s titled IRONMEN include Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.), recipient of the Medal of Honor; and Keith Vitali, world-renowned Karate fighter and S.C. Black Belt Hall of Fame inductee. Col. W. Thomas Smith Jr., a retired S.C. Military Department officer, former U.S. Marine infantry leader and easily one of the nation’s premier counterterrorism experts and Shia extremism analysts is an IRONMAN.”

Carter himself is an IRONMAN as is Thomas Mullikin Jr., the current president of GEA and Dr. Mullikin’s son, who has himself led global expeditions often at the head of former U.S. military special operators. Other IRONMEN include National Wrestling Hall-of-Famer and member of the S.C. House of Representatives Ben Connell, and Keith and Steve Vitali’s fellow Black Belt Hall-of-Famers Bruce Brutschy and Mike Genova. Other Ironmen are state wrestling champion and Kershaw County Councilman Brant Tomlinson; SCUBA diver Dewayne “Duke” Gary; and retired U.S. Army Infantry (Airborne Ranger) Col. Bill Connor.

Koppert and Evans were officially named Ironmen on May 2. A formal awards presentation is tentatively scheduled for May 24 at the Palmetto Club in Columbia.

– Pictured (L-R) are Staff Sgt. Lowell Koppert and Sgt. Jared Evans.